tv Book Discussion on The Speech CSPAN January 18, 2014 3:30pm-5:01pm EST
>> gary younge is next on booktv. he examines martin luther king jr.'s "i have a dream" speech delivered during the march on washington on august 28, 1963. this is about an hour and a half. >> good evening. thank you so much for coming. we have a number of thank yous, a lot of people worked to put this program on. executive dean david scoby at the new school for public engagement, the nation institute, nation book and magazine, haymarket books, the the guardian all sort of really worked to make tonight possible. we, obviously, have a special thank you to all of you who came out tonight and all of the people who are watching this event. it's being live streamed, and it is also being taped by booktv for booktv and free speech tv.
so i would ask everybody to check their cell phones just to make sure that a your cell phone is off. and also just so you know that it is being filmed tonight. we will be taking questions later and passing around notecards and then reading the questions from up here so that they can also be part of the life stream and the booktv -- live stream and the booktv. and there will be a book signing afterwards. haymarket books has a table, and gary will be signing books so, please, join us afterwards. so this weekend i went to d.c., and i had a couple of extra hours, and so i went to see the king memorial. how many people have seen the king me moil? memorial? it's exceedingly depressing. the original plans for the monument included alcoves to honor other civil rights models, but those were scrapped because of ip sufficient funds. king towers over us.
the sculpture is flanked by a granite wall. fourteen quotes are on that wall, not one uses the word "racism" or "segregation" or "racial injustice" or " apartheid." not one. they're arranged by cross stitches, 155, 1963, 1964, completely out of context of movements and mobilizations in which king spoke them. the monument was made in china to save money. a man who excoriated the triple evils of materialism, militarism and racism, who risked his life and went to jail 30 times to challenge the scourge of american racism, who was quick to point out the racism of the north as well as the south, who wrote from jail in 1963 that biggest problem was not the klan, but the white moderate. that man of god and courage is now honored with a memorial that refuses to speak the problem of racism.
it is into this moment, this moment when the history of the civil rights movement is regularly invoked and distorted and used to celebrate the greatness of the united states that we turn to our speakers tonight. both of tonight's speakers write eloquently to help us make sense of this paradox. of these perilous times we live in where the history of one of the greatest social movements of the 20 century is used to imperil any urgency of the task of social justice today. indeed, to cover up at times the continuing scourge of materialism, militarism and racism. and yet of the visions we can gain from a fuller and push richer sense of that history, to help us see and work for justice in our time. michael denzel smith is a blogger at the nation.com and a fellow at the nation institute. he is also a freelance writer and social commentator, and his work has appeared this places
such as the guardian, ebony and the huffington post. gary younge is author, broadcaster and award-winning columnist at the guardian, a monthly columnist at the nation and a knobler fellow with the nation institute. he has written four bookings. his fourth book, "the speech: the story behind martin luther king's dream," is why we are here tonight as he gives us a fuller history of the march on washington and reflects on the current politics of this civil rights history and our recent season of memorialization. so i'm going to turn it over to gary to kind of give us some introductory remarks and then michael, and then we'll have some conversation up here, and then we'll open it up to questions and conversation with you. thank you. >> so thanks very much for coming. for those who have never seen me before, i'm gary younge. for those who have seen me before, i'm gary younge in a suit. [laughter] because this is not a
particularly familiar sight unless you see me at a wedding or a funeral. so the book is called "the speech," and it's about king's famous peach at the march on washington -- speech at the march on washington. and it's left there -- if left there, you have a great man and great talk. but king could not do that on his own. the speech and the march came from somewhere. and i want to start by giving some context to that text. because in the absence of that there would have been no march, and there would have been no speech. and so i start with some of the people whose names perhaps we don't know but who paid for that speech in a range of ways. and i begin with franklin mccain who was a 17-year-old in greensboro, north carolina, who made his stand by taking a
seat at the wool worth's downtown on february the 1st, 1960. when i interviewed franklin mccain, he said that up until that time as a young man in north carolina he felt that his life was worthless and that his parents had lied to him. and the lies that they had told him was the great american lie that you can be anything you want to be. and he said as he grew through adolescence, he knew that wasn't true as a 17-year-old black male in north carolina. he knew that that wasn't true. and just as a symbol of how untrue that was, a completely different story that i was doing several years later, i interviewed a guy called wu ford posey. from mississippi. a white guy who became an anti-racist who told me quite kind of mart of factually, he said i never knew it was illegal to kill a black man until i joined the army. he said until that time i knew it was wrong, but i didn't know it was ill i legal. and true enough, in mississippi
the people who were as likely as not to be killing black people were actually the law enforcement agencies. so it was not an entirely incredible thing for him to speak. so if we go back to franklin mccain, he knows this as well as pugh ford posey does, and he says he was angry at his parents. they sat up, him and his friends, talking about how everybody had failed them before they talked themselves into the action they took the following day not knowing when they showed up whether any of the others would be there. he says, we wanted to go beyond what our parents had done, and the worst thing that could happen was that the klan could kill out, but i had no concern for my personal safety. the day i felt at that counter i had the most tremendous feeling of celebration. i felt that in this life nothing else mattered. the there's a heaven, i got there for a few minutes. i just felt you can't touch me, you can't hurt me. there's no other experience like it, not even the birth of my
first child. a few years later many may '63 in birmingham, alabama, a police officer attempted to intimidate some black school children to keep them from growing the anti-segregation protests. they assured him they knew what they were doing, ignored his entreaties and continued their march toward the park where they were arrested. a reporter asked one of them her or age. 6, she said, as she climbed into the paddy wagon. the following month in mississippi stalwart civil rights campaign, orer fannie lou hamer overheard a fellow activist being beaten in an adjacent cell. can you say nigger? yes, i can. so say it, i don't know you well enough, and then she heard the held hit the floor. a chapter that describes the
decay or -- [inaudible] or the misery and sufferings of the people, but they should begin with a psychological chapter. one that shows how a terrified man suddenly breaks his terror and stops being afraid. man gets rid of fear and feels free. the period preceding king's speech at the march on washington was one such chapter. this that point there had, of course, been many fearless acts by anti-racist protesters, but in that moment the number who were prepared to commit them reached a critical mass. in may '63 "the new york times" published more stories about civil rights in two weeks than it had in the previous two years. during a ten-week period following kennedy's address on civil rights in june that year, there were 758 demonstrations in 186 cities resulting in 14,733 arrests. such were the conditions that made the march on washington possible and king's speech so resonant. and this context was global.
two days after mccain made his protest in greensboro, the british prime minister, harold mcmillan, addressed the south african parliament in cape town with an ominous warning. the wind of change is blowing, and whether we like it or not, this growth is a political fact. some, including his immediate audience, didn't like it at all, but as the decade wore on, that wind became a gail. in the three years between -- gale. the following countries became independent: togo, mali, zaire, somalia, niger, chad, central african republic, congo, thigh jeer ya, mauritania, sierra leone, tang sue that -- tanzania and jamaica. the democracy was the other of the day. the longer america practiced legal segregation, the more it looked like a slum on the wrong side of history than a signing
city on a hillment now, the story of that year in particular is the story of the base, the masses, the grassroots continually running ahead of the leadership. king spoke in harlem just a few months before the march ask was heckled by protesters shouting we want malcolm. when the naacp held their conference in chicago, they invited mayor daley to give introductory remarks, and he is heckled from the floor. when their leaders go to speak to kennedy about holding the march, kennedy says to them we have legislation that's currently going through congress. we would rather have new laws than have the negroes out on streets. and a. philip randolph, the socialist and trade union organizer who's primarily responsible for calling the march, tells kennedy the neros are already in -- negroes are already in the streets, mr.
president. that is the mood of the moment. the patience has worn out, the forbearance, the ability to withstand the clubs and the hoses, hoses that can knock the bark off a tree at 30 feet being fired at children and dogs has become too much. and so african-americans who are always fighting back start to resist like with like. in birmingham there is, eventually, they respond to the bombings of the klan with violence. and there's a fear both among the civil rights leadership and among the kennedy administration that black people will resist and will meet like with like. that is the mood that creates the necessity for a march which is called at the beginning of the year, but very few people want. the polls show that most americans don't want it, particularly most white americans don't want it.
kennedy doesn't want it. it's insufficiently radical for many of the youth and too radical for many of the more conservative leadership. but by the time it happens, there is a sense that if they don't do this, then what are they going to do to channel this frustration, this mass frustration? and so the march happens. now, the key fear primarily of the state is that there will be violation. this is peculiar, because most of the violence in the south has come from the white segregationists, not from african-americans. but nonetheless, the fears that there will be violence, and so it is literally policed as a military operation. it's called operation steep hill. the 82nd airborne ready to fly out from north carolina at a moment's notice and drop 19,000 troops on d.c. a thousand troops in d.c. deployed, 6,000 police working.
all leave canceled, all elective surgery canceled, baseball game canceled, alcoholic sales are made illegal, and even on the mic that king speaks from, there is a kill switch that the justice department put in surreptitiously. the idea is if anybody calls for insurrection from the stage, that they will flip the switch and play the song "he's got the whole world in his hands." that's their response. and so it is into that, into that atmosphere that king plans his address. now, king gave around 350 speeches that year. so you take time off for holidays, that's about a speech a day. and generally, he's not giving do -- [inaudible] he's a baptist preach e and in that tradition he drafts his sermon, but then he crafts it in
response to how the audience is taking to what he's saying. and he has a number of arsenal, a kind of -- a series of weapons that he can use, rhetorical weapons. and, but the difference is that this speech unlike other speeches is going to be televised. the you're in the black church -- if you're in the black church or the civil rights movement, you'd have heard king speak before. but if you weren't, this was his introduction to the nation. kennedy had never heard him give a speech before, and he turns to one of his aides in the oval office and says, damn, he's good. so king and his team want something that is going to be on a par with gettysburg. now, we know a lot of these details because the fbi were kind enough to record them for us. [laughter] he wants something on a par with gettysburg. and so one of his main aides, wyatt t. walker, says to king: don't do the "i have a dream"
thing. it's trite, it's a cliche. you've used it too many times before that's the first line of the book. and, indeed, king had used it many times before. he first recorded using it in '62. it's thought that he probably used it in '61, that's a couple of years before. he'd used it in june at a rally in detroit and even a week earlier at a fundraiser for black insurance executives in chicago. so this was not the first time that, by a long stretch, that he had used the "i have a dream" refrain. and king worries away at this speech. he seeks counsel, he has a lot of input, much more than he would generally. and what we know is that when he goes to bed at 4:00 in the morning the morning of the march, "i have a dream" is not in the text of the speech. that we know. and according to his lawyer and his speech writer, it was not in king's mind to do that.
the next day. so the next day there is a series of meetings they have with congress. there's a funny kind of moment at the beginning of the day where they're in meeting congress, and they come out, and the march has started without them. very symbolically given what i've said earlier. bayard rustin, the gay ex-communist, conscientious objector, and that's before you get to the fact that he's black, he's the organizer of this march. and he runs out of congress, sees the march leaving and says we are supposed to be leading them. they jump into the their limousines and try to catch up with the march but are blocked by the traffic, the traffic caused by the martha they themselves have called. so they jump out of the limousine, and they run to catch up with the march. and if you look at pictures of the leaders of the march in a kind of fred flintstone version of photoshopping, what they did was basically clear people out of the way so it looks as though
they're at the front of the march but, actually, they're in the middle. and throughout that day king is worrying this text, scrawling all over it. the you look at what's left on the podium when he finishes speaking, there's -- it's full of doodles and scrolls and so on. it was a hot day, 87 degrees at noon, and king is the 16th on a agenda of 18. he's the tenth speaker. there's been the anthem, the invocation the prayer. there have been a range of, a thurm of singers in-- number of singers including peter paul and mary, bob dylan, a range of people have sung. and he takes to the podium about 2:30. and according to clarence jones who drafted much of the text, king keeps closer to this text than he would regularly keep. those who wrote speeches for
king said they were always king speeches basically, but you would be, in clarence jones' words, like a very crude architect. you would set up the four walls, and then king like a beautiful interior designer would come and make it his own. king speaks very faithfully to the main text. but then as -- and if you listen to the speech, and i would advise you to listen to it, it's the most popular, least well known speech i've heard of. when i told my brother i was doing this book, he said i love that speech, it's such a great sweep be, you know? that thing about been to mountaintop, and i've seen the promised land -- i said it's a great speech, but it's not that speech. [laughter] he's winding up. he's just going back to mississippi, go back to louisiana, go back to south carolina, go back to alabama, go back to your northern homes and ghettos knowing that somehow this situation will be resolved. behind him is hittingmy hail ya
jackson, a very, very close and special friend. when king was on the road, he would often call ms. jackson for what they termed retail -- gospel therapy. he would call her, and he would ask her to sing to him down the phone to soothe his spirit when he was down. and so he knew her well. he knew her voice well. he's winding down, go back to your northern homes and ghettos knowing that somehow this situation will be resolved, and she shout, tell them about the dream, martin. tell them about the dream. she had heard him deliver the dream segment in june in detroit. king continues. for though we -- let us not wallow in the valley of -- i say to you, my friends, let us not wallow in the valley of despair. and then she shouts again, tell us about the dream, martin, tell us about the dream. and then in the words of clarence jones, king puts his text to the left of the podium, and then his body language changes there a lecturer to a
preacher. and jones turns to the person next to him and says those people don't know him, but they're about to go to church. and then king says for though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, i still have a dream at which point wyatt t. walker, the man who had advised him not to do it turns to the person next to him and says, oh, shit, he's doing the dream. [laughter] so that's how we got there. and what's interesting is that when you ask people who were there at the time and who knew king well, to a person they will tell you that they did not -- of all the speeches that he made, this was not particularly one that they thought we would be talking in 50 years' time. it was a great speech. none of them, you know, denied that. but many of them have different speeches that they thought were better, and either way they said great speeches was what king did. and so i spend a fair amount of time this the book looking at why that is, and i want to kind
of really suggest two things. the first is that there is something for pretty much everybody in this speech. if you are an african-american, part of a community who's told that you are yes netically stupid -- genetically stupid, that you're poor because you're stupid, that your stupidity is your responsible and that your -- your responsibility, and that the failings in your community have nothing to do with history and everything to do with you, then to know that the best speech, america's favorite speech was delivered by an african-american in the black vernacular as an indictment of american -- [inaudible] is something to be very proud of. if you are a patriot, there is nothing in this speech that you need worry about. this is a dream deeply rooted in the american dream, literally and metaphorically delivered in the shadow of lincoln that pays homage to the founding fathers, the constitution and the declaration of independence. this is an american speech. couldn't have come from anywhere else.
if you are progressive, speech comes on -- this speech comes on this day. there have been few days like this for american progressives. fair enough, only 20% of the crowd was white which was less than what they were expecting, but nonetheless, this was the first march of its kind in washington. now marches in washington are two to a penny, but this mass demonstration, they hoped for 100,000, they got 250,000. never been, had never been done before. and it comes, and this is the way i describe it in the book, it is the most eloquent articulation of the last great moral act that america can claim for which there is any consensus, and that is the end of american apartheid. that whatever people say mow or feel able to say, nobody who wants to be taken seriously is calling for those signs to go back up. nobody is calling for a return
to formal, codified segregation. and however small that may seem when we see the amount of racism that can still spew from the mouths of those who are elected or unelected, that is no small thing. the end of apartheid is a big thing, and it's -- i believe it's the last great moral thing that america can really claim to have done as a country. so there is that. a number of people have something to claim. but there's also something else. king, when he delivers that speech, there is an even number of americans with a favorable and unfavorable view of him. by '66, twice as many americans have an unfavorable view than a favorable view. and then he's dead in '68, assassinated. by 1999 when americans are polled on who are their favorite characters of the 20th century, king comes second only to mother teresa. something happens. between when he's assassinated
as a somewhat polarizing figure and 1999, and this is what i think has happened. first of all, why does he become unpopular? well, when the speech is delivered, the year after comes the civil rights act. the year after that comes the voting rights act. legislation begins to kick in, and king understands that the end of segregation is not the same as the beginning of equality. as he says, i have given people -- we have won the right to eat this any restaurant of our choice, but we do not have the ability to eat everything that's on the menu, because we can't afford it. and so he starts talking about what else is necessary. and i want to read you this bit from where do we go from here. you get a sense of why he might become unpopular. he says there are 40 million people, poor people here and one day we must ask the question with why are there 40 million
poor people in america? and when you begin to ask that a question, you are raising questions about the economic system. about a broader distribution of wealth. when you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. and i'm simply saying that more and more we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. we are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace, but one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. it means the questions must be raised. you see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question who owns the oil? you bin to ask the question -- you begin to ask the question, who owns the iron ore? you begin to ask the question why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water? now, that kind of talk in america in 1967 will get you killed. and sure enough, a year later he is killed. so he starts talking about capitalism. the year after that, this '67,
he starts at the riverside church, he calls america the greatest purveyor of military violence in the world today and takes a stand against vietnam. now, how is hurricane then going to -- how is america then going to remember king? well, it can't remember him if it's going to raise him to iconic status, if it's going to put him on the mall. then it has to san toiz him -- sanitize him for public consumption. it has to make him the kind of person who can come second mother teresa. and you can't to that with a man in america who questions capitalism. because to remember king this that way would not raise him above the fray, it would enter him into it. that's what this shutdown was all about. that's what -- they just cut people's food stamps today. you can't remember king as a man who criticized capitalism and still hold him up as an american
icon. that doesn't work unless what it takes to be an american icon changes. you can't remember him, america can't remember him. the powers that be is the man who called america the greatest purveyor of military violence in the world today and arguably still is. and it was notable on the 50th anniversary of the march. there was obama cloaking himself this king's legacy and on the other screen, will we bomb syria? when will we bomb syria? why wouldn't we bomb syria? you can't remember king as that, have him on the mall and still claim him to be an american icon when he's speaking about america being the greatest purveyor of military violence. but you can remember him as a man who got rid of american apartheid. not american racism, because that would involve a whole different set of conversations about why black men in d.c. have
a lower life expectancy rate than men on the gaza strip. you can't have that conversation. but you can have the conversation about why or how he got rid of american aparricide. apartheid. and so that's the way they choose to remember him. and so i end with just one paragraph where i talk about the process by which king and through him the speech can be sanitized, and i say white america, most of it, came to embrace king this the same way most white south africans came to accept nelson mandela; retrospectively, selectively, without grace but with considerable gilens. by the time they realized their dislike was futile, he'd created a world in which admiring him was this their own self-interest. because, in short, they had no choice. ..
play of some sort. there was malcolm x literature all over the house will. i still have on my nightstand a copy of the autobiography my father had, the broken and tired one. i grew up post public enemy, spike lee resurrect malcolm x in his iconography, my father had several x hats, i say all that to say dr. king is not a part of my foundation. i don't have any particular attachment or reverence, or didn't have, i rejected him because i attributed to the binary that you choose not local or choose martin. i didn't have much contact with martin luther king jr..
we had a picture of him in our house like most black americans do. you will found malcolm x, martin luther king, jesus, barack obama. at the barber shop i used to go to there are only three pictures, martin luther king, malcolm x and barack obama. the picture in our household was malcolm x in the center, the honorable mohammed to his right and martin luther king. i don't have a whole lot of emotional cool to tpull to the dr. king. i did not grow up celebrating martin luther king holiday, in virginia we had lee jackson king day where we celebrated
property, stonewall jackson and martin luther king jr. on the same day. >> good day. make it a week. >> that lasted until 2000. they celebrated lee jackson king day until 2000 and this goes to what gary was just speaking about. how can you do that? how can you martin luther king jr. in with robert e. lee and stonewall jackson? you d politicize him, you rob him of his taxable legacy, you rob him of the words he spoke and wrote and the fight he fought during his lifetime and you can do whatever you want with him but martin luther king is not alone in this. weedy politicize every one, american history, your country as arrogant as the united states to claim you are the greatest
nation on the face of the earth, in history, you need a history, a narrative of history to match that claim. so everything becomes the politicized and a symbol of american exceptionalism. this is why you have people on both the right and left praising both fdr and ronald reagan and not see the inconsistencies of that because they are not political figures any more. they are symbols. they represent the greatness of the united states of america so that is what king has come to represent even as he was fighting against pretty much everything america stands for. we can look at the march on washington itself that brought us the dream speech. we know the full name of the march on washington. the march on washington for jobs and freedom.
you can't talk about and commemorate the watch -- the march on washington for jobs and freedom if you don't want to talk about what freedom means in a country that incarcerates more than 2 million people but you can if it is just the march on washington. so you can't commemorate a man who has gary was saying, talked about america as the greatest purveyor of violence internationally and wage perpetual war. you can't do that. you can't talk about martin luther king jr. and erect a statue in his memory and this man stood against police brutality and every 28 hours in this country a black person is shot and killed by police or security and some vigilante. you can't do it but you can if you reduce the man to a dream. that dream is such a blank slate that you can project on it
whatever you want to. that is not king's fault. he was delivering a speech he needed to deliver at the time but the problem with our understanding of race and racism in america being confined to that one moment and being confined to that one idea of having a dream that little black boys and little white boys will hold hands together means we don't deal with what racism actually is. we don't deal with the fact that the governing philosophy for the united states of america since its inception has been white supremacy. we don't have to deal with it because all we had was a dream that it would be nice to one another. what i appreciate about gary's book and also king's book about rosa parks is that we are rescuing these figures and their legacies from this narrative of
american exceptionalism. [applause] >> one place i thought we could start that both of you touched on was what we saw in august around a 50th anniversary commemoration, both of you have written about this and both of you just touched on what became a self -- national self congratulations that i think we saw in august and if you could tease that out a little bit more? >> it was a show. there is a part of me that thinks okay, the 50th anniversary, there should be some kind of show. there should be a commemoration. then that show has to mean something and what that show cannot do is bastardize the original meaning of what happened.
and so interestingly in the run up to the march, the organizers made other concessions. would be an unemployed speaker, march around the white house, they kept making confessions and the young people in the office set out somehow everytime they did and said we had this coalition to keep together, coalition of unions, civilized leaders and church leaders and so these are important but the one concession he would not make was politicians should not speak for the powerful. they are there to listen to us, not to lecture us. what was telling, i went to one of them, hearing nancy pelosi, eric holder got 20 minutes, america's chief cop, she got 20 minutes and julian bond too.
that is not just symbolic. that israel and. that tells you something about -- about priorities and about trajectory. so there was that. the other thing, including a mcdonald's sponsored by -- kicking black people out of their homes since 1933. forward to that being on their -- and they kept saying again and again we have come a long way but we have further to go. who should we look to for that?
you are the president. 50 years after the march on washington the discrepancy between black and white unemployment is the same and between black and white incarceration, income and wealth have grown. there are more people in prison now than were in the soviet black at its height and these people are like what are you going to do? what are you going to do? i would like to know what you are going to do? the degree to which there is a sense of powerlessness among the powerful i found objectionable. one interesting thing i saw pictorial the or visually was the number of the main -- the tee shirt or whatever you saw in that march was trayvon martin. there was an interesting variation on that which was obama in a hoodie.
the sense i got, i don't think when george zimmerman saw trayvon martin walking down the road he says there goes the future president of america. i found it interesting that is -- i saw more pictures of trayvon martin than i did of martin luther king. >> we had two. we had two commemorations, one led by the rev. al sharpton who i have immense respect for, i do, but it was telling to me that young ishahn johnson, the young education activist was taken off the stage because it is telling because as much as we talked about youth and we want our youth involved and we want to see you from movements, we are taking the mic away from
them, taking them out of the fight. that to me was the theme of al sharpton's march, was that it was his ascension. his coronation as the single most powerful civil rights leader in the united states at the moment and essentially go through him and it was disheartening to watch but at the very least, the dream defenders did get to speak at that commemoration which he did not at the official one, he and sophia campus were told they were not going to get their two minutes because they ran out of time. this was the real farce on washington as malcolm x called it, the original farce on
washington, this was not about movement, this was not about the actual lived experiences of black and brown of rest people in this country. this is not about finding solutions. this is about america pat itself on the back for how far we have come and if we look at the statistics gary young has rattled off, how far have we come? i would like to know. if you will indulge my mychal denzel smith i would like to quote a rapper, we start keeping peace, start changing up the tempo. what exactly are we supposed to do when at every turn you introduce new forms of racism? huge change the game completely, it doesn't lookyou change the g it doesn't look like white only signs. this is the new way they have
chosen to address. we don't get any solutions at this commemoration. is not about movement and i don't have time for that. >> i want to talk about this image of the split screen. just to bring in -- i like to bring everything back to rosa parks. the end of february we got the statue. you may remember it is an odd moment of bipartisanship. mitch mcconnell, john boehner, nancy pelosi and the president come to the capital, to honor the first statue of a black person in the capital, barack obama says we need more than lofty words. barack obama is the president, 2013. we need more than lofty words. across town, honoring that statue talking about what a great nation, what a people,
what a country, across town the supreme court is hearing the voting rights act to challenge bitterly across town, president obama ends the day and he talks about her singular act of courage. the president of the united states who could do more and lofty words who said that is what it meant to honor rose up parks when she died, has that opportunity and again gives us what the words. i wanted to talk more about the split screen. >> i think that america has this ability phar-mor potent ability than britain where i am from. to discharge the past and to travel light from its history. burn slips into its past like an
old man and a warm bath, surrounds himself with it and likes the idea of its and kind of like a warm bath after a while, pretty disgusting. people are very comfortable with it. some people say this--putting the great back into great britain. and all out war, suffering -- you don't want to talk about that. god save the queen. looking at every castle. whereas america has this ability, as the march on washington was taking place, reinventing itself saying there was a group from whatever the propaganda agency is that works
with the state department and they were filming of the largees to make a little program to send to africa about american democracy at work, using the march on washington, a march toward democracy, a march by people who had been horse whipped and be in and opposed to say what a great country this is. that is like rewriting history while being is still dry. so there was this uncanny ability here in something i haven't seen in other places to kind of the night with is on the other screen, to have a sort of sense of what is going on.
to say you can see from barack obama's election that is going on. then you just quote almost any statistic that shows here is something that coincided with the larger one. isn't this wonderful? yes. you barely get to the end of a sentence. what that means is racism is a desire which was explicitly stated in the argument eat. that day or before or after, the person arguing to get the voting rights, this is for a problem that has been solved. the problem has been solved and racism becomes signs, becomes only the systematic, you need a
jim crow senior with a pointy hat and a burning cross, whereas jim crow jr. denied paternity but he is still there and he doesn't use crosswords, dresses politely and works in a system that keeps white supremacy going by pushing paper around in a certain way and by locking people up in a certain way so there's a sense the systematic is a lot easier to understand and to see and to portray and people are more comfortable with it whereas a systemic ones you pull it there you have to pull -- the entire way in which michael said america has been structured and the way in which operates. i was going to say no one but that is not true. those who owned the screens
don't want to show the screen. is not in their interest to show the screen. >> we will take some questions. before we take a question, i heard you talk about this, to think about what, if we remember is that speech not as the i have a dream speech but the fact check speech. part of this is also what would it mean to get through different things that are important to his rhetorical presence? >> i want to back up. i didn't grow up and malcolm x household, grew up in the caribbean family. i grew up with more synergy towards what i thought malcolm x
was then what king was and it was partly in the same way, i am sorry, when i start, i grew up -- when i started seeing white people whose racial politics i distrusted, i don't like that anymore. you ruined it for me. it took me to be outside of that. you can't blame him, you can't blame him for that. that does speak to the speech because one of the ways, a few people said this, in the speech, the moment at which quite a moment where king talked about america has issued a bad check to the negro and we have come to cash this check and if you understand it as a bad check
speech than it does bring the issues up to date in a way that the dream which is a vision, utopian vision and i like it, does not, when are you going to come good run this? no one can walk around the jails and schools and so on and say america has ordered that check. the metaphor is the declaration of independence, constitution, black man and white man created equal. it keeps bouncing. and when one understands america's racial history that way, it does do different things to how that speech and be remembered, not just can't we all get along, but i am not specifically talking about reparations but there has to be
a redistribution of wealth. you have to make good on what you say it means to the american. that is a very different way of understanding. 200 years ago in the shadow of the manner in which we stand talked-about the legacy of slavery and segregation in a way that makes it very clear that there is more to freedom than the breaking of chains, more to the qualities than simply the end of segregation. so when people judged by the contact of their character and use that, that is the only line, they used that to oppose affirmative action and ignore the fact that he says racism has a legacy and the present has consequences and we are living
with that legacy and conservatives particularly quite often america, a conservative country likes to do is pretend the past has no legacy. even to take a different example but make the point clearer, when you talk about the bombing of syria and say what about the bombing of iraq, why are you bringing up old stuff? it is not old stuff. it is still going on. you talk about the failure in afghanistan and they say just because the last war doesn't work doesn't mean this when won't. that war is not over. you are still fighting that war. you haven't finished the main course and you are already on desert. slow down and think about what you are doing and there are a range of ways in which that speech, even on its own terms and on its own terms it was not a radical speech, even on its own terms.
>> i was going to ask if we could start a thing called the bad check speech, i got my reparation check. >> you have seen that. you can have it. >> oh no. >> my fantasy is the white moderate speech. my favorite passage from king is the passage where he talks about the greatest stumbling block to freedom is not the klan but the white moderate who prefers order to justice, who feels he can set a timetable for another man's freedom. for more convenient season. if we had that king the work is not done. >> related to that, there is
this interesting way of understanding it. if you think of how unpopular king was when he died, then other people who are unpopular and things that are unpopular, and how king shifts from being second only to mother teresa between being unpopular, it is a useful way of understanding who we excluding at this moment? what issues? what characters? what platforms are we deciding are completely unpalatable in 50 years time have something on the ball landed will be -- bank of america going to sponsor it. >> remember how unpopular he is when he gives the riverside speech the new york times runs and op-ed the next day, dr. king's air, only 25% of
african-americans agree after that speech, that doesn't get as to white americans. the degree that we have, and that message may be where we need to go. >> we can reflect on who is popular. what is going to happen with barack obama? what is going to happen the way we remember his legacy, we congratulate ourselves for electing the first black president and reelecting him, and we will not remember his legacy in any way. and what has he accomplished, we are talking about health care, a
republican idea, it will be a boon to insurance companies, talking about continuation of the wars that were started during the bush years, and and raining this mindset of perpetual war and using drones and expanding that warfare, we are talking about mass incarceration, and the administration continued to fight the war on drugs in much the same way other administrations have fought it even though we don't call it the war on drugs. are we going to remember these things? exalts someone because of what we can find to further the narrative of american exceptionalism and not reckon with their actual legacy? >> what my book is about is
those are always open contests that we are involved in that we should be involved in this never too late or too early to challenge the dominant narrative, there is a difference between the dominant thesis and the range of antipathy and it is important to be in that struggle because it is not just the intention of writing this book is not just about understanding a historical moment. how we understand history, understanding where we are now, i consider that an open fight worth waging. there was a funny thing in belfast last week at a festival
and i was being interviewed on the radio, quick interview. i got my 45 seconds of talking and the woman wrapping up and barack obama is now the legacy built on martin luther king. and like african war supply. you never get it all. but you have to try. >> let me read our first question. this person rights if the dream was an attractive metaphor for the end of apartheid, what would be a metaphor for the end of contemporary white supremacy? a second question, what is today's statement commensurate with i have a dream?
>> the question is can i come up with something that lasted 50 years? one of the things that is worth questioning actually is misappropriated. and it was the only man for the -- was remembered. the states the we are in now, the globalization, systemic as opposed to systematic, more systemic as opposed to systematic form of racism doesn't lend itself easily to
metaphors. fat that has kind of been one of the challenges. the 1%, 99% beam was a useful framing and i thought for a while wasn't bad but it captured the sense of a framing of the problems that people do kind of go back to. even then, for wasn't in -- entirely adequate. i can't match the dream. if i could i wouldn't be here right now. >> none of us will be around for the end of white supremacy so i don't think we should bother trying to rack our brains for a metaphor to sum it up. but as far as catchy slogans go,
the only one that i will endorse, going back to the dream defenders. i love the work they are doing. they just say over and over again i believe that we will win. and that is it. >> just a version the amc's slogan was victory which was a very powerful, given how unlikely it was at so many points but the point you make, it is difficult to imagine what the end of white supremacy would look like actually. that doesn't mean it is not worth trying to. what i like about the dream segment, the utopia, within ten days four little girls have been killed in birmingham, sunday school, yet there is this guy, he didn't say i have a ten point plan. we can do better, we can be
better. this is not all we have to be. we are not even -- we haven't even reached the point of his dream yet. so kind of going on to what the next dream will be, let's wake up from the nightmare we are in right now and get to the end of that. >> i think king over and over, in birmingham jail and later speeches talks about the myth of time, and against this idea that things get better and better and progress and progress and i think we forget this part of king that says time is neutral. for time, for things to get better it requires us to act and this idea that we just be patient and be quiet, that america or the world is getting better.
king says over and over is the mess and the voice of opposition are better at using time than we are. i was reading the letters is weekend was struck by that. we have a question here that says are there any other famous historical figures who are critical of capitalism and been depoliticized? >> in america? >> they don't think so but that may be the implication. i don't know. >> i would look for something from the audience. can-a friend? >> i do think that theme in the civil rights movement is taken out of how we talk about the movement, yes? >> go ahead.
you are my friend. [inaudible] >> it is for the -- >> maybe w. e. b. du bois in regards to him not being talked about constantly through the mainstream and other figures and what not? >> yes. w. e. b. du bois and interestingly dies on the day of the march and there is for those who don't know, he joined the communist party in late in life. he dies on the day of the march and wilkens, who is the head of the naacp, asks him will you commemorate, and wilkins says
know. because do boys--to what was the communist. then wilkens kind of does agree. i do think there are people who have forgotten. rosa parks is certainly misremembered. i don't know what her position on capitalism is but i do know that she was not, when asked about her position, king, in relation to malcolm, i could never get to the -- i was always much more of the lever in malcolm's strategies than king's. she could never devote herself to the notion of nonviolence
really. >> i don't know if there are any other figures who are critical of capitalism who have been depoliticized. >> muhammad ali would be a good example. >> gloria richardson. one of the things we haven't mentioned tonight is sort of both women participated and organized for the march and were in many ways shunted aside and one of the people who was on the dais that date was gloria richardson who was waging a struggle in cambridge, md. and it was a struggle that was very much linking racial injustice with economic justice. richardson, a like the other women that they did not get to speak. there's an amazing interview democracy now did with gloria
richardson, the march commemoration where she talks about what they were doing in cambridge but also littoral the sort of being recognized and getting to say hello and the microphone being taken away from her but i do think rich edson is emblematic of many local -- what we might say civil rights leaders or black freedom struggle leaders who always had a kind of core of economic justice and what we tend to remember is public desegregation and that was part of that struggle but there are all these other economic troubles woven through that again, gloria richardson, would be one that i would put up there. >> the critique of capitalism,
he didn't implement it once he was in power unfortunately. also a different world. i would not have liked to have taken over in africa at that moment if anybody asked. but the freedom charter old for a whole range of thing. nelson mandela's favorite democracy was british parliamentary democracy. economically he was a socialist. a socialist. i don't think we will be seeing much of that when he passes. one of the things that kept him in prison along time was that he refused to renounce any association with the communist
party. mandela would be another one understood as a nice old man. >> i agree malcolm x had a critique of capitalism but they have to want to remember you to be depoliticized. >> we have a live stream question. this person asks is there some degeneration who remembers the fight of all these leaders, how can we instill interest in new generations for them? >> how do you still interested in young people to want to learn history? i think you have to relate it to them. it has to be tangible. it has to mean something to your present. i think that is what you find with a lot of youth activists and today, they are tied to understand history and that is why they are out in the streets.
because they understand for than to have what freedoms they have now, someone struggled for it, they also understand what that fight didn't complete the struggle. they have a responsibility to take up that mantle now. it simply is someone along the way expressed that to them. someone, when they put that copy of the biography in their hands, they said this is your history. this is who you walk, this is how you got here. how do we do this with the use? have you ever tried talking to them? they are not aliens that don't understand the way that you speak, don't understand words, they are intelligent beings.
you can talk to young people. i implore you, talk to young people. >> i find young people very receptive. it wasn't that long ago. that is a very important thing to remember. 50 years is not that long. my 6-year-old son wants to know about segregation, i can point to his grandfather or grandmother. his grandmother saw king speaking and his grandfather grew up in the south. this is living history. young people are not kind of -- they have fought very keen interest in history. there are two reasons why the way in which it is presented in them can be a turn off. one is these people did all this. what are you doing? you use less bunch of people. where is your rose up parks?
where is your -- i march, you got your hands hanging down. >> we get arrested when we buy delts. >> and so there is this sense that history is used as a stick to beat young people with and in a sense they are not worthy of the history that they have in between. and secondly, that if you tell history in as a series of stories about great men and occasionally great women, and you put people up on pedestals you can't reach them. and so it becomes another version of a world you don't have. which was the point of that first bit that i read. these are ordinary people, 6-year-old kids, people whose names you don't know, history is
made by people, not by -- in order for king to deliver that speech, that could be a match. for there to be a march there had to be 14,733 arrests in ten weeks. that is a lot of people and that person could be you. you could be part of what makes that speech. if it is an ego thing and you want to give the speech that is a different thing but if you want to understand how that speech actually happened it happened because people made it happen. and so it does depend on how you tell history. most revolutions, social or political revolutions are led by the young. there are very few stories, regardless of where it is, in cuba or russia or germany where young people are not front and center including this story,
birmingham changes everything and birmingham is young people and so making history accessible, not in easy words but as something that you can take ownership of is very important. otherwise it just becomes one more thing you have to learn about clever people you are never going to be like. >> who have seen so much more regal, unified. gary starts with franklin mccain who was one of the young people in greensborough and there four young people discarded. to go back and to think i have three friends what can i do with three friends?
four friends. >> back to rosa parks, claude that cut and was kicked off the bus before rosa parks, pleads not guilty, and do they start to go with, wrong side of town and she gets pregnant, 15-year-old girl and they drop her, they just brought her and don't just dropped her from that protest which is a strategic question, also a moral question obviously. what is that going to be? they drop her out of history altogether. she is just let go. when you read insert her back into history what you are saying is you are a single mom. this is what happened. you are a 15-year-old girl. not just what can happen to you in terms of bad things you do but she did that, she is part of that store. when they distribute finds about
rosa parks, another woman has been kicked out, clog that -- a --claudette coleman is named. >> the case that desegregate montgomerie's buses gives her, smith and two other women, rosa parks is not on the case because they are worried it will muddy the waters to have her because it is still in state court and also because the naacp, they are worried about that. the case that desegregate montgomerie's buses is filed by four women, two of which are teenagers. >> if rosa parks is understood as part of the collective action where she makes her protest and then for 13 months, people walk to work, black people from
montgomerie walk to work, doesn't really mean much beyond her own protest, you are involving large numbers of young people, lots of single mothers, working-class people like you who made that stand whereas if you only understand it as there was this lady, she got tired, didn't want to stand up so she sat down, that is the story of rosa parks, a than a first of all, what an individual person, this would be different if she had bear shoes, she would not have been so tired, she would have stood up. the sense that it is one person in one moment, not a massive collective protest did stand for people like you. >> what happens when you real imagine the story and not tell it through the lens of the male protagonist. e.u. sender the women in this
fight and start talking about what helped launch this bus boycott, the sexual violence these black women were experiencing on the buses. what happens when you tell little girls that or little boys that? you shift the whole narrative and when we are talking to how to relate history to young people you tell them the story and you tell the actual story and don't give them platitude, and give them the truth. >> you talk about how hard it is. to me one of the -- every school child learns rosa parks is courageous but what makes it actually courageous, they didn't work. there is nothing to believe that night when she makes that decision and she doesn't believe it. and is irritating and annoying.
she doesn't see this as the new chapter. when we tell this story, everybody stands up and nobody stands up when an injustice -- it feels like we are not unified today, when we tell it, she had done this over and over, people she knew had done this over and over, and that is what it requires. it requires long seasons of where it doesn't look like anything is changing. >> it is not recorded. you are not doing it for the cameras, you are doing it, history, the facts of history are such, only the fact that we choose to present, caesar crossing the rubicon, not many people cross the rubicon river and caesar crossed many rivers. what made that a fact of
history? lots of people protest and rosa parks made lots of protests and it is about what happens that makes that fact of history as opposed to the range of other facts. king gives the i have a dream speech many times, yet somehow we don't know about detroit. we don't know about chicago. why do we understand the speech in that way? that does open things up in terms of expectation, the expectation is than i made my protest and the world didn't change. i made my individual protest and the world didn't change as opposed to i made my protest and did this and things happened that didn't work the first time and do it again. >> we will take one question and
wrap up and will be time for signing and more informal. at with martin luther king still be marching today? >> absolutely. others are out there getting arrested, why would king? >> generally when i do this there is always some desire to get you to talk for him. what would he say about this? given everything we know about his trajectory, it would be incredible -- the garbage workers strike in memphis. that had gone wrong, there had been violence and he felt the urgent need to go back and make it work. i think it is deeply unlikely that king would return today, look at the jails and the schools and the mental
institutions and the food banks and unemployment lines and think my work here was done. who would be marching with a man who would be marching against him? >> eight days after 9/11 rose a parks, harry baden belafonte and another of other civil rights leaders put out a statement basically calling to the united states not to retaliate to sort of work with the international community to find justice after 9/11. one of the great things about sending someone like rosa parks is we know what she would be doing because she was in fact doing it but the point was how many of us knew that? where was that covered? b can again have rosa parks get a state funeral, first civilian ever to get a state funeral, she
lies in the capital. king didn't get that. many presidents didn't get that. that person had four years earlier said this is what the united states should do and not do, that part of it somehow falls out. last comment? >> history is not an object in process. it works with great prejudice in order to craft a certain kinds of memory. those memories are never settled which is why we are here. and so if they can't forget you, and god knows they try. it is not like it was a foregone conclusion that we would still be talking about king. if they can't forget you, then they will kill you with the
kindness of remembering you in a certain way. they will kill you twice. they will give you a stamp. they will deify you in a way that extracts all of the meaning that made you meaningful. because it is an ongoing process, it is an ongoing challenge. it is not a challenge that i feel is a foregone conclusion. i think that these are struggles that we can actually -- i don't know if you ever quite when them but have traction coz they have relevance to the present. history lives with us. as much as people like to travel
light, when they look around, the baggage is still there. >> to be point about the stamps. most of my heroes don't appear on the stance. they put their pictures on but they still don't appear. [applause] >> thank you. gary younge will be signing books. >> and you. >> and me. thank you. [applause] [inaudible conversations]
>> you are watching booktv on c-span2. here it is our prime time lineup for tonight's. at 7:00 p.m. eastern time robin west sits down with booktv from georgetown university law center. at 7:30 political strategist james carville and mary matalin talk about their lives since the 1992 presidential election. at 8:20 eastern take into more of the smithsonian national museum of american history. at 9:00 p.m. nicholas griffin examines china's use of the game of ping-pong to recast their foreign policy initiatives in the 1970s. we wrap up the programming at 10:00 p.m. eastern with afterwards with nicholas johnson, author of negros and the gun, the black tradition of arms. that all happens tonight on c-span2's booktv. >> here is a look at the top ten adult nonfiction books that were checked out of the new york
public library in 2013. at the top of the list is facebook's chief operating officer cheryl sandberg with her book mean in. she shares her experiences in the corporate world the second is the collection of narrative essays let's explore diabetes with holes followed by the 1 my beloved world by the first hispanic supreme court justice sonia sotomayor. walter isaacson is fourth with his authorized biography of steve jobs, a new york times best seller. business reporter charles duhrig on the why habits can be changed in why we do what we do in life and business. sixth is thinking fast and slow, and exploration why the mind works by daniel economist, pulitzer prize-winning journalist michael moss links the rise of the processed food industry to the ever-growing obesity epidemic in the seventh most checked out books of, sugar, fat, how the food giant's